Culture - joint fluid
Joint fluid culture is a laboratory test to detect infection-causing organisms in a sample of fluid surrounding a joint.
Joint fluid culture
How the test is performed
A sample of joint fluid is needed. This may be done in a doctor's office using a needle, or during an operating room procedure. For more information on this procedure, see joint fluid aspiration
The fluid sample is sent to a laboratory where it is placed in a special dish and watched to see if bacteria, fungi, or viruses grow. This is called a culture.
If such microorganisms are detected, other tests may be done to further identify the infection-causing substance and determine the best treatment.
How to prepare for the test
There is no special preparation needed for the lab culture. For information on preparing for the removal of joint fluid, see joint fluid aspiration
How the test will feel
The joint fluid culture is done in a laboratory and does not involve the patient.
For information on how the procedure to remove joint fluid feels, see joint fluid aspiration
Why the test is performed
Your doctor may order this test if you have unexplained pain and inflammation of a joint or a suspected joint infection.
The test result is considered normal if no organisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses) grow in the laboratory dish.
Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
What abnormal results mean
Abnormal results are a sign of infection in the joint. Infections may include:
What the risks are
There are no risks to the patient associated with a lab culture. For risks related to the removal of joint fluid, see joint fluid aspiration
Espinoza LR. Infections of bursae, joints, and bones. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 293.
Ohl CA. Infectious arthritis of native joints. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2009:chap 102.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.